Online retail was supposed to solve holiday shopping stress. Instead of battling twitchy-eyed hordes in the aisles of Target and Walmart, we can just point, click, and wait for the delivery truck. But nowadays the “aisles” of e-tailers are eye-twitch-inducing in their own right: thousands of products in every category, spam reviews, deceptive ads. “Amazon sometimes feels like a minefield,” says data scientist John DeFeo. So he started his own product-recommendation site to cut through the noise. It’s called “Good, Cheap, and Fast” (I’ll abbreviate it as GCF for convenience), and it’s aggressively designed to do what it says on the tin.
To that end, the site doesn’t waste effort on frills like “bandwidth-hogging images” or “spill[ing] 10,000 words of digital ink on…mundane appliances.” To DeFeo–a former designer–the job to be done here is simple: “save people time,” he says. Thus GCF’s Craigslist-esque, all-text aesthetic. (It does have nicer fonts, though.)
But GCF isn’t just a stripped-down clone of The Wirecutter or Consumer Reports–its design springs from an entirely different philosophy on shopping. Most recommendation sites assume that online shoppers are “maximizers”: faced with the internet’s intimidating abundance of options, they want to know which one is The Best. But GCF is for “satisficers“: people who just want something good enough without breaking the bank, so they can get on with their lives.
“I love review sites that cut through the noise, but many of the products they recommend are expensive,” DeFeo says. “For example, The Wirecutter‘s favorite portable generator costs $1,000. That’s more than many of my friends and family members can afford.” GCF recommends half a dozen alternatives, all for less than $500. None of them are The Best, but each one includes a succinct sentence or two about the trade-offs involved. If you’ve got $300 and you need a decent generator, maybe you’re willing to accept one that’s “beloved” but “very loud.” Satisfice on!
This approach to product recommendation means that DeFeo can use data–in the form of hundreds or thousands of already-existing user reviews–to make his picks. He says he uses a combination of “existing shopping tools and plugins” to filter out spammy or suspicious product reviews, and then eliminates more by “measuring the relationship between 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5-star reviews, with an eye toward quality control issues.” (Apparently, junky products can still often receive 4-star reviews because the companies placate customers with refunds or replacements.) DeFeo says his data-aggregating-and-scrubbing process currently takes about 25 hours per week, but he hopes to automate more of it if the site “evolves into something beyond a passion project.”
In the end, every online shopper is a maximizer in some contexts and a satisficer in others. That’s why DeFeo says he hopes Good, Cheap, and Fast can serve as a complement to sites that lab-test products themselves. Personally, whenever I need to buy a thing online, I tend to just do whatever The Wirecutter tells me to. But does that really make sense for commodity items like USB cables and tape measures? In those moments, Good, Cheap, and Fast–in that order–is just enough.